The Interpretive Shaping of Embodied Musical Structure in Piano Performance


  • Bryony Buck
  • Jennifer MacRitchie
  • Nicholas J. Bailey



performance motion, phrasing, gesture shapes, structural interpretation


Research has indicated that the magnitude of physical expressive movements during a performance helps to communicate a musician's affective intent. However, the underlying function of these performance gestures remains unclear. Nine highly skilled solo pianists are examined here to investigate the effect of structural interpretation on performance motion patterns. Following previous findings that these performers generate repeated patterns of motion through overall upper-body movements corresponding to phrasing structure, this study now investigates the particular shapes traced by these movements. Through this we identify universal and idiosyncratic features within the shapes of motion patterns generated by these performers. Gestural shapes are examined for performances of Chopin’s explicitly structured A major Prelude (Op. 28, No. 7) and are related to individual interpretations of the more complex phrasing structure of Chopin’s B minor Prelude (Op. 28, No. 6). Findings reveal a universal general embodiment of phrasing structure and other higher-level structural features of the music. The physical makeup of this embodiment, however, is particular to both the performer and the piece being performed. Examining the link between performers' movements and interpreted structure strengthens understanding of the connection between body and instrument, furthering awareness of the relations between cognitive interpretation and physical expression of structure within music performance.